A summer afternoon at Wilson’s Orchard in Solon

September 13, 2019

by Emily Coll, program coordinator

Our ISU Extension and Outreach Farm, Food and Enterprise Development Program and the Iowa Farmer’s Union sponsored the Practical Farmers of Iowa field day, “Making an Orchard Work in Iowa,” one sticky but beautiful afternoon this past July. Our host site was Wilson’s Orchard near Iowa City.

Group of people touring an apple orchard.

Turn-out was fantastic, with more than 25 attendees from growers to students. At least six were students at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield.

The hosts, Paul Rasch and Sara Goering, were gracious and informative. Paul covered a variety of topics during the tour, including:

  • differences between cider and non-cider apple varieties,
  • managing a dwarf tree system, and
  • rootstock selection.

The English cider varieties are popular with Paul.

The big freeze

Apple orchards were much more common in Iowa in the 1800’s, up until the blizzard of 1940. On November 11 that year, the temperature dropped from 70oF at 7 a.m. to 0oF by 7 p.m. and ice covered the trees. Due to the wet fall without frost, the immature wood froze, killing the inner bark.

This type of damage many times girdles trees, and little can be done to keep them alive. Before this storm, known as the “Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940,” Iowa was second in apple production only to Michigan. The state’s orchard industry has never recovered to its former levels.

Grafting and budding are two methods of propagation that are used to combat cold sensitivity. Both are widely used today by orchardists in Iowa and other cold climates.

Remodeled barn.

Relaxing at the cidery

Paul shared so much information that it was a wonderful wrap-up to relax in the gorgeous event center, Rapid Creek Cidery. We got to taste some of their popular appetizers and ciders. This building was crafted from two reclaimed barns, and opened in spring 2017. It offers a contemporary farm atmosphere, with a cuisine that focuses on local and seasonal ingredients.

Fall is a great time to visit an orchard! Wilson’s has a U-pick operation that is easy to navigate and rewarding for the whole family.